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Do You Have A License For That Child?
The idea of "children's rights" is being advanced as a justification for requiring "parent licenses" to have children.

Many years ago the idea of "rights" was associated with the restriction of government power. People were commonly seen (at least in English-speaking countries) as having the rights to life, liberty, and property. This meant that the state couldn't kill anyone, restrict anyone's freedom (criminals excepted of course), or confiscate anyone's goods. Rights placed limits on the power and activities of the state.

Do You Have A License For That Child?
Do you have a license for that child?

In recent times, however, rights have often become a vehicle for extending government power. The idea of "children's rights," for example, is being advanced as a justification for requiring "parent licenses" to have children.

Even bigger government

The prestigious Canadian public policy journal, Policy Options, carried such a proposal in its September 1998 issue. The authors of the proposal, Katherine Covell and R. Brian Howe, are both professors at the University College of Cape Breton. Entitled "A Policy of Parent Licensing," their article argues that, "a licence to parent should be mandatory" (p. 33). Such mandatory licensing is, in their view, an outgrowth of protecting rights. "Children have basic rights, including ones related to parenting, and the state has the responsibility for ensuring that children are provided those rights" (p. 34).

Of course, children are frequently too immature to claim their rights or exercise their rights, so certain adults must claim and exercise those rights on the children's behalf. In this way the idea of children's rights extends power, not to the children themselves, but to adults purportedly acting for the children's best interest. Usually those adults are agents of the state. In short, then, "children's rights" are really a vehicle for empowering the government, usually at the expense of the family.

State is the problem, not the solution

Covell and Howe are correct to point out that many children these days manifest notable problems such as antisocial behaviour, poor school performance, substance abuse, and in later years, depression and even suicide. Current policy is not adequately addressing these problems. If they were to dig a little deeper, Covell and Howe would find that a root cause of this situation is the decline of the traditional family. But the solution they propose, instead of strengthening the traditional family, is to strengthen the power of the state. They want the government "to institute a system of parent licensing" (p. 34).

What would happen if a parent's license was not renewed?

In order to qualify for a parent license, one would have to fulfill three basic requirements. First, the applicant would have to demonstrate that he lives his own life responsibly. Basically that means he would have achieved a certain level of maturity and have completed at least a high school education. Secondly, the prospective parent would have to sign a contract promising not to neglect or abuse his child. Considering that earlier in the article Covell and Howe refer to "physical punishment" as an inappropriate discipline method (see p. 33), the contract would likely be understood as forbidding spanking. Thirdly, in order to receive a license, a parent would have to complete "a certified parenting course on early infant development. Subsequent courses, appropriate to developmental stages (toddlerhood, preschool, school-aged child, early adolescence, later adolescence), would be required for license renewal" (p. 35).

What would happen if a parent's license was not renewed? Probably the same thing as what would happen if a license is revoked for breaking the contract mentioned above: the child (or children) would be removed from the parents—whisked away by uniformed people intent on enforcing "children's rights."

In keeping with Canada's commitment to equality, all parents would have to obtain licenses. "Parent licences would be required for all Canadian parents, fathers as well as mothers, biological and adoptive parents. Immigrants with children would be given provisional licences for a limited time period during which they must apply and meet the conditions for a licence" (p. 35). People who flee oppressive countries to come to Canada will suddenly be faced with the possibility of losing their children if they don't have a high school-equivalent education, or fall short in some other way.

Only bigots don't like it

Covell and Howe are aware that they will face opposition. "Critics may argue, as they did in opposing voting rights for women or laws against discrimination, that such change will do more harm than good" (p. 35). In this way, Covell and Howe attempt to discredit opponents of their plan by identifying them with people who opposed women voting and supported (racial?) discrimination. According to them, only bad people will argue against parent licenses.

Covell and Howe conclude their article by comparing parent licenses with driver licenses. The benefits of requiring licenses to drive motor vehicles is obvious. And yet people have to learn basic skills to qualify for a driver's license. "The benefits to all individuals and to society as a whole must be expected to be at least as great if parents also are educated and licenced" (p. 35). Unfortunately for them, this analogy does not work. Every motor vehicle is a potential killing machine. Putting an unqualified person behind the wheel of a car or truck creates a serious threat to the life and well-being of anyone within driving distance. Indeed, even with driver licensing people are killed in motor vehicle accidents in Canada every day. Parenting is not analogous to this. Besides, licensing does not prevent careless driving, and licensing would not prevent careless parenting.

There is no reason to consider every parent a potential abuser …

There are bigger problems with parent licensing than the failure of the driving analogy, however. It is based on a "guilty until proven innocent" principle. Someone cannot be considered eligible for parenthood unless he or she has fulfilled certain requirements. It is assumed that people will be incompetent parents unless they meet the conditions stipulated by children's rights proponents. Even then the license must be renewed and can be revoked. Certainly there are abusive parents, and there may arise unfortunate situations where children should be removed from their parents' custody. But these are very rare occurrences and can be dealt with on a case by case basis. There is no reason to consider every parent a potential abuser who must sign a contract promising to restrain his or her abusive tendencies. No one supports bad parenting, but that's not the issue. The issue is, how can we deal with bad parenting? Certainly not by assuming everyone is incompetent (or worse) and requiring them to prove otherwise by qualifying for a license.

Parents are children's God-given caretakers

In the biblical Christian worldview children belong to God and He entrusts them to parents to raise them according to His Word. Parents don't own their children, but they are the ones to whom God has delegated the responsibility for proper upbringing. Parents are trustees of the children on behalf of God. In the children's rights view represented by Covell and Howe, it seems that children are fundamentally the responsibility of the state. The state grants conditional custody to a parent in the form of a parent license. Parents are thus trustees of the children on behalf of the state. In this view, then, the state effectively takes the place that God occupies in the Christian worldview. The concept of "rights" is used to justify a dramatic expansion of government power. Clearly, the idea of parent licensing is anti-Christian.

Michael Wagner is a home schooling father and Christian writer living in Edmonton.

Originally published in the Reformed Perspective, February 2005.




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